We’re very big proponents of Character Agency in our games. If you’re not familiar with the wording “Character Agency” let us explain: Character’s ability to make decisions regarding their actions is essentially “Character Agency”. Character Agency is what separates Table Top RPGs from other forms of entertainment where we drop ourselves into a fantastical setting, mainly these days that refers to video games. Waaaaay back in the day every gamer we knew also had a stack of “Choose your own Adventure” books at hand as well… but those days are now in nostalgia-land.
Making sure your players have Character Agency is the difference between a game that is “on rails” (or “railroading” as it’s lovingly called) and a game where your players are shaping and changing the world they play in. Because affecting the game world leads to more buy-in and (in our opinion) is more fun we do all we can to guard Character Agency at our table.
This week Character Agency took our game to some exciting places! During the party’s interactions with the Kobolds some VERY high Charisma based checks were made. ALL of them were started by actions the player’s suggested and pushed for. This led to the Kobolds being willing to take ONE of the characters to meet with “Big Boss”. If you’ve read our Campaign Diary for this week you already know who Big Boss was… in-game all the players were assuming Big Boss was just another Kobold. They sent the low AC, low HP sorcerer in to chat with this Big Boss and said Sorcerer wound up standing toe-to-toe with a Manticore. The party are all Level 4 right now so all together managing a Manticore is no biggie, but one on one, well the odds were strongly in the favor of Big Boss.
The Sorcerer cast Suggestion on the Manticore and used a Sorcery Point to Heighten the spell. Rolling at disadvantage the Manticore rolled a Nat 1 (we know Nat 1s & 20s don’t REALLY count on saving throws and ability checks per the rules but at the table they always feel like they do anyway). The Sorcerer suggested that the Manticore sit down and they finish their conversation. A few DMs have told our DM over the course of the week all their reasons they wouldn’t have allowed the spell to stop the aggression in the encounter and their objections have all been noted. BUT, this is our blog so here’s why our DM was 100% ok with letting this 2nd level “save or suck” spell derail the murder of the party’s lovable Sorcerer.
1) The player was burning through resources to make this happen. A second level spell slot and Sorcery Point in a desperate attempt to keep his character from being torn into ribbons. When players burn resources they deserve results if the dice roll in their favor. This wasn’t an ability check. The player didn’t ask to make a persuasion roll. NO, they used valuable daily resources.
2) It really was a Do or Die situation. IF the Manticore had made it’s save against the spell the Sorcerer would’ve been past Death Saves by the time the party got to him.
3) By our interpretation it totally fell within the spell description. They had been negotiating a deal right up until the time the Manticore ripped it’s claws across the Sorcerer’s face. So returning to those negations wasn’t some far-fetched and unrealistic command.
4) The Player Role Played the whole thing perfectly. Because the Player really leaned into the Role Playing of keeping their conversation going our DM felt that that deserved some level of positive reinforcement. Our DM also ruled that it took the Sorcerer’s action each round to keep his Filibuster for survival going.
5) The Characters in your stories are supposed to be heroes. Heroes do heroic things. Casting the right spell at the right time and saving your own bacon is certainly a heroic deed!
All of those reasons with a dash of Rule of Cool worked together to make a second level enchantment a game changing spell for that night of play for us.
Another thing we like to do in our games is to run sentient creatures more like NPCs than mindless brutes. This opens up the doors for solutions to problems other than smash, magic, and slash. The party worked a deal with Kobolds in the lair because they have motivations (they’re not real happy that Big Boss was their leader). The Sorcerer was able to get out by the skin of his teeth because Big Boss was willing to hear what he had to offer before attempting to eat him. It’s true that some sentient creatures will not be open to negotiations but we like building a world where thinking creatures… well, think.